Home Ice Advantage—Technology Boosts Layout

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When Darren Gillett decided to upgrade his company’s construction layout effort, he did so with a number of considerations in mind. First, he needed to maintain the degree of excellence for which his firm, Gillett Construction, had become known. Second, he needed the technology to be effective yet easily adaptable by his team, many of whom had little or no previous total station experience. And finally, he wanted the move to be a bold one, taking him from his effective but archaic approach, to one that would serve them well as they moved forward. On a project to build a state-of-the-art practice facility for the NHL expansion Golden Knights hockey franchise in Las Vegas, Gillett recently met all those criteria with an LN-100 layout navigator. The instrument, a solution that blends laser and robotic total station technology, has transformed Gillett’s layout function from one mired in past practices to one that is poised for the future.

Cold in the Desert
When thinking ice skating and skatingrelated events, Las Vegas, with its desert climate and freewheeling, "what happens here stays here" reputation, might not be the first location that comes to mind. Yet the Las Vegas area is actually home to several large facilities with rinks or rink capabilities, including the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas Ice Center, The Orleans Hotel, and a number of community skating centers. The common thread between most of the large-scale facilities is Darren Gillett, owner and president of Henderson, Nev.-based Gillett Construction.

"In one way or another, I’ve been involved in construction of all the major area rinks, The Orleans with a previous company and several since I started Gillett Construction," he said. "There’s a specific skill-set that’s needed for creation of an ice floor in this climate and I’ve been fortunate to have acquired those skills over the years. Locally, we are the only company that specializes in that type of work, so we are excited for the opportunity to build the Knights’ practice site out here in Summerlin."

The 105,000-square-foot facility will include a team offices, a pair of regulation sized (85′ X 200′) ice rinks, a 20,000-squarefoot locker room and training facility for the club, a pro shop, concessions and smaller locker rooms to accommodate youth/high school hockey games and tournaments, as well as a restaurant. It sits on 4.5 acres of land located directly across from the Red Rock Casino and the hugely popular Downtown Summerlin retail complex.

"The focus, obviously, is on the NHL team that will be training there," said Gillett. "However, it’s important to note that, in addition to the site serving as the home for the UNLV hockey program; this is also great for all local area residents. When they are not using the ice surface for regular team practices, the Golden Knights organization is making the facility available to the public. Team officials have said that they envision hosting hockey tournaments for kids, high schools and adults at the site."

Upgrade in Order
Once they had the bid for the practice facility secured, Gillett began looking at ways to improve onsite processes in order to ensure staying within the $25 million budget. Looming large on their radar, according Gillett, was the way in which layout was performed.

"Up to that point, all of our construction layout was done using `old school’ technology: a theodolite, a tape measure, and a plumb bob," he said. "While the technique might be outdated, we had the best guys in town doing it, so it was always accurate and reliable. But with this major project upcoming, I spoke with Ernie Raczniak, our general superintendent, and told him I thought it was time we looked into a total station of some kind. We’d been talking to Joe Schneiderwind, the sales rep from Nevada Transit & Laser, and we all agreed that a new product from Topcon Positioning Systems might be exactly what we needed."

The instrument to which Gillett referred, Topcon’s LN-100, is designed to easily and accurately obtain horizontal dimensions and vertical elevations anywhere within its layout zone. The robotic instrument, coupled with a prism pole and touchscreen controller allows onsite personnel to quickly obtain precise layout points. Using additional accessories, the LN-100 can be mounted on a building column or placed in any out of the way location without affecting performance.

Goodbye Bob
Work on the facility began in November 2016 with clearing and grubbing, and then was followed by a serious grading effort that entailed import of some 350,000 tons of fill material. When layout began in earnest, Gillett and his team were cautiously optimistic.

Several of the company’s personnel had met with Joe Schneiderwind for a day to get familiar with how the LN-100 — and the Topcon FC-5000 data collector Gillett chose to use in conjunction with it — operated. However, according to Brad Sellers, Gillett’s project superintendent, there was still a bit of apprehension at the outset.

"The first day using it, my guys were understandably leery — they were being asked to put their trust in a technology that was new to them," he said. "But by the second day, they were just occasionally pulling the tape to verify points, and once they realized the degree of accuracy they were consistently getting, they trusted it more and more. Now they are totally sold on it and never even consider the plumb bob.

Sellers added that, despite being new to the technology, they are already using the LN-100 to lay out every footing, all the CMU (concrete masonry unit) walls, gather their control points, and more.

"After we plug in the structural drawings, we are able to lay out the corner of every column, and when we get into our steel stud framing, we will also use the instrument to lay that out; it’s been impressive for us."

Overcoming Obstacles
Both Gillett and Sellers agree that, since making the move to the layout navigator, the company is seeing an immediate increase in efficiency; layout using the robotic instrument is far more streamlined than using a theodolite, tape and plumb. In fact, Gillett says it is almost like eliminating one man–in itself, a huge plus. The company also likes the fact that the LN-100 can be positioned off to the side of the job, away from congested areas, minimizing the risk of damage to the unit. However, according to Nick Shugart, one of Gillett’s layout carpenters, a number of other unforeseen benefits have been identified as well.

"Although I’ve had some experience with total stations working for a different company before coming to Gillett, I haven’t worked with any robotic technology. So I was impressed with how quickly Eric (Desmond, a fellow layout carpenter) and I were able to get a real comfort level using the LN-100. But for us, a simple thing like being able to shoot over existing material on site–a real headache when pulling tape–is huge. It’s great to be able to pick a point on the tablet and go to it without worrying about whether there is a pile of batter boards in that area. As long as we have a couple of control points we have the whole job in our grasp."

He added that, at one point, they were doing a section of CMU for which there were no dimensions included in the print. "But because we had all the data in the unit, we were able to just click on points, periodically scaling to double-check accuracies. It sort of proved how valuable the tool had become to us. And the data collector is extremely easy to use as well; anyone who can find their way around a smart phone will do fine with the FC-5000."

Drive to Succeed
As a company that self-performs its own concrete, framing, drywall, carpentry, millwork installation, etc., Gillett says that adding the LN-100 to upgrade the layout effort made perfect sense. "We are of the philosophy that it is easier to drive the bus than it is to sit behind the driver telling him where to turn. So if we control the layout, we control the schedule and this solution helps us do that better."

That philosophy seems to be serving Gillett’s firm well; the company is forecasting sales to almost double from their current annual $25 million number. "We like what we’ve seen from the LN-100 thus far and see it being the layout technique of choice– on everything from the ground up–as we move forward."

The NHL Golden Knights practice facility is scheduled for an August 2017 completion, in time for the team’s pre-season practice schedule in September.

Larry Trojak, of Minnesota-based Trojak Communications, is a freelance marketing content specialist. He writes extensively for the geopositioning, utility, aggregate processing, recycling, construction, and demolition markets.

A 3.817Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE